Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Dazzle Speaks with the Dead

So much to be scared about and so little time to understand—isn’t that what life’s really about... ? And then, just when we start to understand a tiny bit of it? We’re suddenly dragged off to some other meaningless form of nonexistence altogether.”

Dazzle was neither a mystical nor a metaphysical sort of dog. He didn’t believe in karma, redemption, the transcendental ego, or the immanence of Platonic forms. For Dazzle, the world was a meaningless and immutable mess—and the byproduct of entirely material insufficiencies. Not enough bones to go around, say. Or people with too many weapons living next door to people without any. So it came as something of a surprise when Dazzle developed, late in life, a gift for speaking with the dead. He had never sought out such a gift, but once it came his way, he lived with it the best that he could.

“I want to tell her that I’m sorry I didn’t clean the bowl more often, or show her enough attention, especially when I was working,” Mr. Lapidus confessed to Dazzle in the sandalwood-scented Comfort-Room of Madame Velma’s Spiritual Contact Center, the longest-functioning spiritual arts shop on the central coast. “I meant to clean it more often, but I never did. And I wish I’d been more affectionate. I don’t know how affectionate I could’ve been with a goldfish, but I should’ve at least made more of an effort. I’m just not the sort of person who develops healthy emotional connections with other creatures, probably because I didn’t know my father when I was little. Other little boys had fathers to play with but I never did.”

Dazzle was accustomed to the weeping, the frantic hand-wringing, and the physical convulsions that manifested human remorse. But if he lived to be a thousand, he would never grow accustomed to the preposterous get-up that Madame Velma insisted he wear each morning while “serving” customers: the multicolored scarves layering his forehead like the turban of some furry Sikh, or the silver-painted bracelets chiming loosely from his neck and ankles, making him feel like a cheap whore at a carnival.

Sitting on a rickety wooden stool behind an even ricketier card table, Dazzle took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and placed his callused paws against the sides of his gloaming, Taiwanese-manufactured crystal ball.

Shhhh,” Dazzle breathed softly. “Somebody’s trying to speak.”

Mr. Lapidus, wringing his large pale sweaty hands, hunched closer.

“Yes, I’m listening,” Dazzle whispered. “Speak louder, please. Your name’s Fishface and you’re lonely. Your name’s Fishface and you’re trying to find a path into the next world.”

Mr. Lapidus blew his nose into a moppy clump of Kleenex, his eyes round and wide.

“Have you found my beloved Fishface?” he asked. “How did you know her name? What’s she trying to say?”

Dazzle cautioned Mr. Lapidus with his half-lidded eyes.

“Life was hard,” Dazzle confirmed. The spectral presence appeared in Dazzle’s ambient perception like a blip on a sonar screen, a spiny blur of incoherency and loss. “It was cold and round and came up hard from every direction. It yielded nothing but the minimal reflections of yourself.”

Mr. Lapidus stopped crying and sat up straight. He could feel the presence too. Or maybe he could just feel Dazzle feeling it.

“And now all you’re looking for is peace,” Dazzle continued, trying not to look directly at Mr. Lapidus. “You aren’t interested in what this lonely man wants from you. You just want to get as far away from his big, emotionally obsessed moon-face as you can get.”

Since appointing Dazzle her Apprentice-Medium-in-Training, Madame Velma had departed to Club Med with a Dominican leaf-blower named Hymie Sanchez. But not before signing over the DBAs to her financial manager, and opening an online account at the downtown Albertsons, where Dazzle could purchase home-delivered dog food, fresh fruit and vegetables, and an occasional mixed-case of Côtes du Rhône or Beaujolais nouveau—which proved especially useful in helping Dazzle unwind after a long day communing with the cosmos.

“They don’t care one whit about their recently departed,” Madame Velma assured him during their weekly phone conference, her voice suffused with the immanent echoey rush of waves on what Dazzle envisioned as a white, shell-less beach framed by blue sky and bluer water. “They just can’t stand being disobeyed. People develop an unnatural attachment to pets, mainly on account of pets got no say in the matter. Go there, sit here, eat this, sleep on the floor, get in the cage, stop growling—people get what they want from the human-beast dynamic, and that’s extremely satisfying to the sorts of fragile egos that need pets. But when a pet dies, it issues the only independent statement it ever makes, as in: ‘Good riddance, pal! Take your catnip toys and doggy treats and shove ’em straight up your you-know-what!’ It’s like primal disobedience at the cellular level. For pet-lovers, it sends their self-images into a state of shock. Suddenly, their pets have become as indifferent to their happiness as everybody else.”

Since developing an evening regimen of lapping moderately priced wine from a plastic dog bowl, Dazzle had grown about as mellow as he was likely to get.

“I’m cool on the whole over-the-top emotional crisis deal,” he said, kicking back on Madame Velma’s corrugated blue sofa amongst the burbling lava lamps and steadily glimmering Hummels. “I’m even cool with the neediness, the endless litany of personal regret, and the desperate post-midnight pleading for emotional guidance when, jeez, you know me, Velma. I don’t care what happens to human beings—I really don’t. But the part that drives me most crazy is that here I sit, day after day, listening to one homo-sap after another begging me to contact their departed loved ones, and then, when I do make contact? They’re not interested in what their loved ones are trying to say. They just carry on whining about what they’re feeling, and their pain, as if the entire spiritual universe is all about them.”

Unlike Dazzle, who tended to worry too hard about things, Madame Velma was more the carpe-diem type personality. Which was probably why her voice faded away into the distant rush of waves whenever Dazzle’s voice grew most distraught.

Te amo, mamacita,” a swarthy-sounding Latin voice whispered in the staticky background, as rhythmic and self-sustaining as the tides of St. Tropez. “Te amo all the time.”

But if Dazzle waited long enough, Velma either hung up the phone, or reemerged from what sounded like a long kiss.

“You’ve got a gift, Daz,” Madame Velma would conclude, “whether you like it or not. Me, I was a total charlatan, with all those spooky hidden tape machines and wobbly floorboards hooked to remote controls and so forth. But I know a good soul when I meet one, and one of those good souls happens to be yours. So do what your gift tells you, honey, and always remember the most important part of spiritual-arts services: we take cash, money orders, and American Express, but never Visa. Those Visa pricks keep hitting us with surcharges, and if there’s one thing that pisses off Madame Velma, it’s lining pockets that aren’t hers.”

by Scott Bradfield, The Baffler |  Read more:
Image: Michael Olivo